This month, the Tennessee Supreme Court addressed the applicability of Tennessee’s cap on noneconomic damages for an injured plaintiff and her spouse in Cynthia E. Yebuah, et al. v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC. In this case, a patient had her kidney removed due to the discovery of a malignant mass in 2005. The patient had subsequent CT scans to monitor whether any abnormality reoccurred in her kidneys. Several years later, the patient consulted a gastroenterologist about abdominal pain. During a laparoscopic procedure, the gastroenterologist discovered a foreign object that was believed to have been left behind during her 2005 procedure.
The patient and her husband filed a healthcare liability action in Davidson County against the surgeon who allegedly left the device in her abdomen, a radiologist who allegedly failed to discover and report the foreign object in a subsequent CT scan, and their employers. The doctors themselves were eventually voluntarily dismissed. The case proceeded to trial against their employers under a theory of vicarious liability.
During trial, Radiology Alliance, P.C. received a directed verdict, which left the Center for Urological Treatment, PLC to face the jury alone. The jury awarded a total of $4,000,000.00 to the patient for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded $500,000.00 to her husband for his loss of consortium claim. After considering the parties’ motions to alter or amend the judgment, the trial court determined that the statutory cap of $750,000 on noneconomic damages, as set out in Tenn. Code Ann. §29-39-102, should apply to each plaintiff’s damages separately. The trial court amended the judgment to a judgment in favor of the patient in the amount of $750,000.00 and a judgment to her husband of $500,000.00. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.
The Supreme Court determined that this was an issue of statutory construction of the non-economic damages caps in Tenn. Code Ann. §29-39-102. The Supreme Court determined that the phrase “each injured plaintiff” in the statute was not equivalent or interchangeable with “each plaintiff.” The Supreme Court recognized that a loss of consortium claim is a separate but derivative claim, such that recovery of damages for such a claim depends on whether the injured plaintiff prevails at trial. In light of the statutory cap on non-economic damages, the plaintiff patient and her plaintiff spouse’s damages are limited. It was the Court’s determination that the noneconomic damages of the injured patient plaintiff and her husband could not exceed $750,000.00 pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §29-39-102. This decision essentially holds that a single statutory cap on non-economic damages applies to an injured plaintiff and their spouse’s loss of consortium claim.